Halloween Horror Show on 3rd Down

After a step forward last week against Minnesota, the Packers took a major step back against the New York Jets. Facing mostly manageable third-down situations, Aaron Rodgers threw one incomplete pass after another.

A few weeks ago, the Green Bay Packers' offense could cling to the theory that it was piling up yards. Cut out a mistake here and there, and it would keep those drives alive and approach its goal of matching last year's 28-point average output.

On Sunday at the Jets, well, at least the Packers won.

"I'm happy we won the game. I couldn't care less right now, at this minute," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "Tomorrow I can be unhappy, but today I can be happy."

The core numbers will make Philbin cringe:

-- 237 total yards.

-- 15-of-34 passing for 170 yards.

-- 25 carries for 54 yards, if you discard a meaningless 27-yard run by Brandon Jackson in the final minute of the second half.

-- 2-of-14 on third down.

The Packers' first two possessions resulted in three-and-out punts. It didn't get much better for an offense that can't consistently run the ball and didn't have the personnel to beat the Jets' cornerbacks duo of Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie.

The Packers finished with 13 possessions. They failed to get a first down five times and managed only one first down five other times. Seven of their possessions failed to gain more than 20 yards.

The shortcomings on third down were especially frustrating. Against Washington and Miami, the Packers went a combined 5-of-26 on third down, but most of those were third-and-long situations, meaning first and second down were bigger problems than third down. In the Miami game, for instance, the Packers' average third-down distance was 11 yards. Against the Jets, however, the average was a manageable 7.2 yards.

The Packers went 0-for-7 on third down in the first half, with Rodgers throwing incomplete each time. The second half was slightly better, at 2-for-7. The big conversion came after Charles Woodson stole the ball from Jets tight end Dustin Keller for a key interception. Rodgers' 14-yard completion to Jordy Nelson on third-and-6 moved the chains and led to a 41-yard field goal by Mason Crosby that made it 6-0 in with 6:41 remaining.

"That was a very nice play by Jordy," Rodgers said. "He's been consistent for us. When he gets his opportunities, he makes the most of them. It was a big catch. I didn't really get to see the catch -- I kind of got popped on that one -- but I was happy to hear the crowd go quiet after he made that catch."

Eight games into the season, the high-flying 2009 seems like a distant memory that won't be repeated this year. With Jermichael Finley and Ryan Grant out for the season and Donald Driver ineffective because of an injured thigh, the Packers have only one playmaker: Greg Jennings. James Jones, who was held without a catch, sank back into his inconsistent ways after a big night against Minnesota. Nelson gets open on occasion but isn't a threat with the ball. The Packers line up rookie tight end Andrew Quarless in the same fashion as Finley but defenses aren't designing game plans with Quarless in mind.

With a full complement of playmakers, Rodgers' third-down passer rating of 133.5 last season was the best since Kurt Warner's 137.3 for the Rams in 1999. On Sunday, Rodgers completed just 3-of-11 passes on third down for 23 yards.

Still, they won. They host Dallas on Sunday night and then get a bye to hopefully get these problems sorted out for the stretch run.

"This was obviously a low-production game for us," Rodgers said. "But the positives you take away, we didn't have any turnovers. I don't think we had done that all season yet. So, that's important. Moving forward, that's something that we did very well last year. Our defense took the ball away a bunch and we didn't turn it over. So, we're going to focus on those positives as we go home and tomorrow try to fix the things we did wrong."

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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